NU alums discuss their work at imo messaging app

    As both summer break and graduation approach, staying in touch with college friends can be a priority for Northwestern students spread out across the globe. imo, a messaging app for iOS and Android devices, aims to combine key messaging services like Facebook, Google Chat, MSN and others into one inclusive, coherent app, while also offering its own social networking elements to let users expand their horizons and meet new people. 

    We got the chance to chat with two employees of the company, both Northwestern graduates, about the exciting new features of the imo app as well as what it’s like to work for a Silicon Valley startup.

    The App

    Nikola Borisov (McCormick ’10), a software engineer at imo, spoke about some of the app's features and what distinguished it from other messaging apps on the market.

    “imo has two aspects to it,” he explained. “One is first letting you connect to your friends on all the different networks. The second aspect is more social. We want to let you meet new people and share interesting information with the world.”

    The social networking aspect, or broadcasts, aims to let users share and interact with imo users across the globe through status updates. Borisov said the manner in which people are exposed to this content, often from complete strangers, is very scientific. 

    “We run algorithms that decide who around the world should see your broadcast,” he said. “You can also limit results in the feed. So for instance, I could type 'Northwestern University' into the search bar, and then I would see only posts from people at Northwestern.”

    The ultimate goal of the feature is to allow you to interact with strangers that have shared interests. But in practice, it’s possible some might be timid or cautious about reaching out to people they don’t know at all.

    Reaching out to friends through the messaging service within the app is where imo really shines. By signing in to various messaging accounts inside the app, you can create a single login for all of your messaging services, which you can access from multiple devices.

    The app is not limited to simple messaging, but tries to span several modes of communication, said Borisov. 

    “You can just message your friends, but you can also send photos to them, you can send them files, you can call them,” he explained. “We also have group chat, and that’s another feature that you sometimes get another app for, but it’s built in to our app.”

    The features for the app are only expected to grow, according to Lorraine Lee (Medill ’12), who now works in the marketing department at imo.

    Borisov believes imo has features that could benefit students at Northwestern especially well. Reflecting back at his own time at Northwestern, he feels that using the broadcast element of the app to advertise events and reach out to students might be more effective than current strategies at the school.

    “I think the ‘meet new people’ feature could have a big effect on college campuses, and when you think of all the fliers posted on the ground [at Northwestern], there’s no real need for [these flyers],” Borisov said. 

    Interested in working in Silicon Valley?

    Borisov and Lee urged students interested in working in Silicon Valley to start planning now.

    “During my time at Northwestern I did a few internships with small startup companies and also with large companies,” Borisov told me. “I really like the experience of the small company, so by the time that I was graduating I was looking for full-time job, and I was contacted by imo. I interviewed and I really liked the team.”

    But while planning ahead is important, Lee said that the future can be full of surprises. 

    “I had no idea that I would be working at a tech startup. I knew that I wanted to move back to the West Coast and that I wanted to do something in the communications realm, but I just had no idea,” Lee said. “I love it and it’s been a really good experience here so far.”

    Imo is available as a free download on iPhoneiPad and Android.

    Editor's note: Lee previously contributed for North By Northwestern.


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